May 3, 2013

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

Stub Hubby on VHS presents: Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

So we're purging our house.
We're holding our third annual Yard Sale this weekend, and this time, we mean business. We're feeling zero nostalgia for the junk that's filling up our basement, and bookshelves, collection.
Amongst the DVDs I haven't watched in years (Boogie Nights), or only needed to watch one more time (Kiss Of Death) I found a VHS copy of Butch Cassidy with the shrink wrap still on. I bought it at a yard sale (I think I paid 25¢) So I peeled off the cellophane, stuck the tape into my still-connected VCR and hit PLAY.
The movie is very clever, with great dialog, wonderful chemistry, and lots of surprises, but wow is it boring.
Burt Bachrach's music is used in two overlong montages (the trip to New York & Bolivia montage, and the life in Bolivia/becoming notorious bankrobber montage) which I literally could not sit through. The bicycling montage set to "Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head" is bizarre. The second montage is set to a Swingle Sisters-style chorus (The Ron Hicklin Singers) singing jazzy, uptempo harmony scatting "la-de-la-di-da" which instantly dates the movie as a flower-power relic. Any contemporary audience would laugh.
Ninety minutes in, I finally turned it off and went to bed.

Released in 1969, it feels like a counter-cultural reactionary response to conservative-values cowboy movies.
I've read William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade cover-to-cover, and his authorial intent is all well and good, but, as Bruce Springsteen once said "what do YOU think this song is about?"
For me, Butch is all about two men who don't know how to conform to society's expectations of them. They can't play by the Establishment's rules. They're just trying to get along, and yet they're persecuted.
The authority that wants to stop them has no face or personality. The "super-posse" chases them from a great distance. Butch and Sundance seem like reasonable guys- they treat the railroad employee Woodcock with respect, they're genuinely concerned for his welfare.
The disaffection for authority continues in a very humourous scene where the local sheriff (Kenneth Mars) tries ro rouse a posse - a common Western trope - but none of the townsfolk are interested in chasing Butch and Sundance. Their sympathy for the Hole In The Wall Gang (or at least indifference) is a deliberate reflection of contemporary suspicion of the police.
It's telling that Butch and Sundance are completely out of touch with the Spanish-American war - Vietnam parallel, anyone? Butch jokes about enlisting in the Army to avoid prosecution for their bankrobbing.
When they finally shoot *at* someone, it's after they're hired as payroll guards. They're forced to gun down a whole passel of Bolivian bandits in a sobering moment where their good times finally grind to a halt. They've become the Establishment machine they rebelled against for so long.
The movie feels more contemporary, and less timeless than I remember. In 1970 it was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture. It won for Cinematography, William Goldman's original screenplay, Burt Bachrach's score, and "Raindrops" won Best Song.


  • The picture quality was surprisingly good! A mint VHS tape, in a VCR I bought in 2001, on a 32-inch LCD television wasn't half bad.
  • Paul Newman is a very handsome man. Robert Redford has amazing hair. Amazing. But Newman is 1,000 times better-looking.